Years ago, I recall making a sensory bottle from a recycled bottle, cork kernels, and various small objects such as beads, small figurines, etc. The jar of beads enthralled my then two-year-old. He wanted to play with it but it was bedtime. So, I promise him that we could play with the jar of beads in the morning.
So, the first thing he does when he wakes up in the morning is to ask for the jar of beads. Smart kid. No problem except that we had less than half an hour before leaving for preschool. Plus we needed to change clothes and eat breakfast. What the heck, I said to myself. He is a toddler with the attention span of a goldfish. 15 minutes top, whipped out a tray, a medium-sized plastic food container, two teaspoons, and an egg carton. I placed the jar of beads on the tray along with the other tools and continued on my merry way of getting the day started.
As I whipped around the kitchen I slowly began to realize that he was intensely focused on this impromptu exercise. I watched him described the beads to my mother. Then he poured, scooped and told us when he saw in the beads (‘this one is a pinwheel, mama!'). Observing him was wonderfully fascinating. Observing the clock, on the other hand, was stressful. I had to stop this precious moment on concentration, interest, and learning to shove him in a car to get to preschool. That made me sad. I didn't want to stop the experience for him, or me for that matter. We did move on with our day, though. We ‘had' too.
So, my point in sharing this story is to introduce with you: 1) allowing your child to take the lead and 2) take the time to stop and observe your children's natural exploration of their world.
The Importance of Observation in Early Childhood
“The teacher must derive not only the capacity, but the desire, to observe natural phenomena. The teacher must understand and feel her position of observer: the activity must lie in the phenomenon.” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori
A big deal in Montessori is observation from a few different perspectives. From the director's perspective, along with preparing the environment, observation is one of the main priorities this allowing the child to lead his own learning. She only intervenes when necessary to guide the child, or to give a lesson. From the child's perspective, observation is a natural tendency and one, that if honored, creates a sense of awe and wonder for the world and ignites a natural desire to learn.
Here are a few ways we observe in our home:
Nature Walks – go on walk with no plan. simply take in the walk, even if you live in a city. ask your child questions such as “which tree is your favorite?” or “can you find the color ‘red'?” Listen to your child's questions, take note on what is catching his eye and cater work at home to that natural interest. Watch your child. Or do the opposite of an active listening and viewing walk by imagining that which we cannot hear such as a worm wriggling or a flower blossoming.
Bird Feeder – Bring the wildlife to you. Create a home for them in your yard, on your porch or in your home. A bird feeder is ideal for observation. Be patient. The birds won't come screaming to you but they will eventually come to you.
Tadpoles – Watching a life cycle unfold is awesome no matter how old you are. We're fortunate to have a pond where frogs spawn. We were able to share eggs with my son's class and some friends. Watching the tadpoles grow from the eggs, then into polliwogs was hands on. We grew attached to our frogs. We released them a few days ago and continue to visit them in our pond. We were able to observe beehives and spider sacs too. Although, admittedly I was less excited about those animals. If you don't have access to a pond, or nature, generally, you can “order” caterpillars online. Create a mini biome and watch them grow and transform.
Ants – Ants are amazing little insects. Our earth needs them, just as we need honey bees and worms, and so we should respect them. Plus if we watch the way they work, it is truly amazing. We have plenty of ants around our home but we also have an ant farm to observe.
Plants – Planting a seed is one of the most effective ways to hook a child. Plant a variety of seeds, notice how the seeds are different and how they sprout. Measure and care for them. There are wonderful ways to observe seeds cheaply in cups and even cd cases. There are also relatively inexpensive “Root Viewer” products.
Color – One other way we enjoy observing is to bring color into the experience. I have color paddles and color blocks to look through to the world from a different perspective.
Up Close – Observing through a magnifying glass or microscope is another extremely effective way to hook a child. You can purchase inexpensive magnifying glasses. I recently splurged and bought a double magnifying glass “table” for observation. We pick up random bits from the ground to examine and even man-made objects are interesting to examine. We found a “dead” beehive with an egg and pupa preserved in it. That was a good find.
Be Still – One of my all-time favorite activities to do with my sons, which is always initiated by them, is to simply lay on the ground and stare up to the sky. We observe clouds and birds, mainly. Taking deep breaths and allowing my body to relax is the best part for me.
Thank you for reading this post today.